A new brewery in Northern California is challenging American’s assumptions about beer. Asian Brothers Brewery makes American-brewed Asian beer by incorporating Asian flavors into heartier American beers in the hopes of becoming the house beer for California’s growing Asian population. Michael Le opened the company in January 2018, and it is the first craft brewing company in the United States to make Hmong, Lao, Mien, Cambodian, and Vietnamese beers. The company is comprised of people from various Southeast Asian backgrounds and they use their culture as inspiration for their products. By using sweet Asian style hops with notes of mint, honey, and durian, Asian Brothers makes it clear that their beer is something different.
Asian Brothers places a heavy emphasis on the story behind the beer, not just the beer itself. The company describes how its products are inspired by the stories of Southeast Asians who were displaced after the 1975 Vietnam War. Many employees have family that were forced to flee from their respective countries to the United States because of the War and therefore many found themselves without a home. This has led to a strong bond within Asian Brothers and they aim to keep this legacy alive, and to share it with customers through their beer. Nyiaj Kub Pale Ale — the company’s flagship beer — is inspired by the Hmong contribution to the cannabis industry. By using certain types of hops, this light honey-like beer is meant to simulate the smell of marijuana. The brewer intends the scent to be reminiscent of harvest and Hmong New Year, making it a quintessentially Hmong beer since hard work and celebration are essential to Hmong culture. Asian Brothers currently offers two Hmong, two Vietnamese, and one Lao beer on their website and will soon be introducing two more Asian beers.
Asian Americans are the fastest growing population in the United States, with over 6 million living in California alone. Over 2 million of those are from ASEAN countries, making 7% of California’s population of ASEAN ethnicity. In the United States as a whole, 36% of Asian Americans identify with being ethnically ASEAN.
This is not the only example of an Asian American beer. Earlier this year, Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales and South Korean Playhouse Brewery co-produced a Korean blackberry beer. The two companies have worked together on numerous occasions by sharing beer recipes and training, and have created a positive connection.
Coors has also realized the importance of the Asian market. In 2014, the company known for its self-described “coldest beer in the world” altered its strategy to fit Chinese preferences. It is less common to drink beer cold in China as it is said to upset one’s stomach, so Coors has altered their color-changing cans to suit Chinese tastes. Instead of the cans turning blue at 4 degrees Celsius — 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit— Chinese cans change at 7 degrees Celsius — 44.6 Fahrenheit.
Celine Mahne is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a third-year undergraduate student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs, concentrating in Security Policy and minoring in Korean.